A marine science instructor at Catalina Island on Sunday was startled to find the carcass of an 18-foot oarfish resting on the sea floor.
Jasmine Santana, who works for the Catalina Island Marine Institute, had been snorkeling in Toyon Bay, not far from Avalon, where CIMI runs a kids camp.
The oarfish was dead but its slender, snake-like body was intact.
The find was described by CIMI as a "discovery of a lifetime."
The carcass required 15-20 people to carry it up the beach, according to a CIMI news release.A group had just returned from a tall ship adventure at nearby Santa Barbara Island, and instructors were unloading gear when they spotted Santana hauling the oarfish ashore, according to CIMI spokesman Kent Woods.
"The craziest thing we saw during our two-day journey at sea happened when we got home; these islands never cease to amaze," instructor Connor Gallagher said in the release.
Oarfish, which can reach lengths of 50-plus feet, inhabit depths of 1,500-3,000 feet. They feed largely on krill and other tiny organisms and boast large, saucer-shaped eyes.
They're believed responsible, in the times of ancient mariners, for spawning tales of sea serpents and dragons that would rise like demons to steal crewmen and sink tall ships.
They're rarely encountered but sometimes when they die or are near-death, they surface and wash ashore.
Only a handful of live specimens have been found. Interestingly, Catalina was the site of two such discoveries. In 2006, a 15-foot oarfish was spotted in the island's Big Fisherman's Cove.
Harbormaster Doug Oudin snorkeled alongside the docile creature before it eventually perished. It was collected for study. Woods said that CIMI found a much smaller live oarfish at Catalina about five years ago.
Last year at the Baja California resort city of Cabo San Lucas, a 15-foot barely-live oarfish washed ashore on a popular beach. It also died soon after its discovery.
The modern discovery of oarfish may date to 1808, when a 56-foot serpent-like creature washed ashore in Scotland.
In 1901, a 22-foot oarfish drifted onto the sand in Newport Beach, California, becoming, according to one reference book, "the basis for many sea-serpent stories told by local bar patrons for more than a decade after its discovery."
–Oarfish photos are courtesy of CIMI